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The origins of Kombucha have become lost in the mists of time. What is certain, however, is that it originated in the Far East and has been consumed there for at least two thousand years. Its arrival in the UK is only recent, some twenty - thirty years ago maybe, but it has already had an influence on the lives of many people.
There are numerous myths regarding the medicinal properties of Kombucha and many apparent 'miracles' have been attributed to it. These should be left in folklore where they belong. Kombucha is not an 'elixir of life' nor is it a panacea for all ills. It is, however, a potent nutritional beverage with many health-promoting properties. The workings of the human body are extremely complex and can easily be thrown out of balance by a number of factors e.g. poor diet, invasion by viruses and harmful bacteria, malfunctioning of vital organs, inefficient disposal of toxins and waste products, deficiency of beneficial bacteria etc. Kombucha can help with all such metabolic disorders as it acts in a holistic manner, treating the body as a whole rather than targeting specific areas of concern.
Brewing the Kombucha beverage is easy and entirely natural, it will soon become a part of the regular household routine. Kombucha can safely be consumed by the whole family, including children, although it is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. Sufferers from serious or chronic diseases, particularly diabetes, would be advised to consult their health practitioner before drinking Kombucha.
The culture is often described as a mushroom, fungus, scoby or lichen but in fact it is none of these. A better description would be 'a cellulose pancake containing a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria, mutually dependent upon each other'. It is beyond the scope of this booklet to go too deeply into the microbiological properties of the culture. This subject, however, is adequately covered in several other publications on the subject of Kombucha.
Although Kombucha is a fermented drink it contains only minute quantities of alcohol, typically 0.5% by volume. In order to produce the beverage, the culture must be fed nutrients and be allowed to breathe oxygen. The nutrients and minerals are supplied by tea and by sugar. Sweet tea is placed in a suitable container and the culture allowed to float in it. The yeast and bacteria contained in the culture then invade the nutrient solution to perform their separate functions. The purpose of the yeast is to convert the sugar in the tea to alcohol. This alcohol does not remain for long, however, as it is digested by the bacteria and converted into organic acids. Nutrients from the tea are absorbed by the culture, enabling it to produce a second culture which grows gradually on the surface of the brew, and to excrete minerals and vitamins into the beverage.
The beverage and it's benefits
The most important properties of Kombucha are the various organic acids produced by the bacteria. Besides the two main acids, acetic and lactic, many other organic acids are present in smaller amounts. All of these acids are required for the proper functioning of the vital organs and are produced naturally by the immune system in a healthy body. Unfortunately a completely healthy body is very rare and deficiencies in organic acids, vitamins and beneficial bacteria are common. By drinking Kombucha regularly, you are ensuring a constant supply of these essentials of life. The result being that your immune system may be greatly strengthened, enabling you to naturally fight off many maladies previously reliant on drugs, such as antibiotics, digestion is improved by the restoration of intestinal flora in the colon and the body's pH values are correctly maintained thus balancing the metabolism.
It can be seen from the above that the main role for Kombucha is prevention rather than cure, although there are well documented cases of amazing results being achieved in the fight against many serious illnesses, including cancer. It would be easy to list a whole range of complaints that can be relieved with Kombucha; indeed several such lists have been produced. Rather than producing lists we prefer to state that Kombucha can help with the healing, and prevention, of ALL METABOLIC DISORDERS by working holistically, providing help wherever it is needed.
At this point further discussion on pH is appropriate. Every organ of the body has a pH value at which it performs at its optimum. pH is measured on a scale from 0 - 14 where 7 is neutral. Values below 7 are acidic and those above 7 are alkaline. The pH scale is logarithmic, i.e. a difference of 1 on the scale indicates an acidity or alkalinity difference of 10. A pH of 5, therefore, is ten times as acidic as pH 6. The stomach is a highly acidic environment, in the range pH 1-2, which is necessary for efficient digestion and elimination of harmful bacteria. The pancreas, however, prefers a slightly alkaline condition of pH 7-8.
Probably the busiest vital organ is the liver. The human body depends on a healthy liver for many of its functions, particularly to remove toxins, to distribute vitamins and minerals around the body, to extract fats and carbohydrates from food and convert it to energy. Kombucha has many properties for improving the health of the liver. The most important of these is glucuronic acid, a powerful detoxifier which is produced naturally by the liver but can be in short supply, especially in older people. Other organic acids in Kombucha assist the liver by regulating the body's pH levels. The following acids are known to exist in Kombucha, each providing benefit to the body:
Besides organic acids, Kombucha also contains vitamins of the B and C groups with their well-known benefits, essential enzymes and beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria. It can be clearly seen that Kombucha is highly nutritious as well as medicinal and its consumption will promote a general feeling of well being both physically and mentally.
Brewing Kombucha is easy and success is virtually guaranteed provided certain criteria are met. First and foremost you must begin with a healthy culture. It may be prudent to enquire of the donor certain information regarding its age, method of storage etc. A visual inspection of the culture will usually be a good guide to its health. It should be at least 3 mm thick and 8 cm wide with an unbroken surface, which should be a creamy white colour. One side of the culture may be lighter/darker in colour. This is caused by the tea and is quite normal. The culture should smell fresh, a little like cider vinegar.
If, however, it appears grey and have an off-putting acrid smell then it is not healthy and should be discarded, along with the liquid it’s immersed in.
The second ingredient of Kombucha is tea. Although theoretically any tea can be used, for best results use only the finest quality leaf teas. Tea can be divided into three main types, although they are all obtained from the same plant, worldwide.
Black tea provides ample nutrients for the Kombucha culture, particularly nitrogen, but certain varieties can make a very strong tasting beverage, which may not suit your palate. Varieties of black tea which have a mild flavour, thus making them suitable for Kombucha, are Chinese Keemun, Indian Darjeeling, Russian Caravan (a blend of China blacks named after the Russian traders who carried it West via the silk road) Pu Erh and Ceylon Orange Pekoe. Due to its high oil content, Earl Grey is definitely not recommended for Kombucha.
Physicians in the East have long been aware of the nutritional value of green tea and recent research has revealed health benefits over and above nutrition. A survey in Japan revealed that people living in green tea growing areas had far fewer incidences of cancer than in other areas of the country. Prostate cancer in particular was rare. American researchers discovered that a particular polyphenol contained in green tea, EGCG, is instrumental in inhibiting one of the major enzymes necessary for cancer growth.
There are many other minor constituents of green tea that contribute benefits e.g. carotene, fluoride, zinc, selenium, manganese, potassium, niacin, and folic acid. It is evident, therefore, that the use of green tea in Kombucha should be recommended. All of the Aurora Kombucha tea blends contain green tea in various proportions in order to benefit from its properties.
All green tea varieties are ideal for Kombucha especially Chinese Sencha or Japanese Sencha. The tea buds begin growing in April and the leaves are mature by July. When plucked, the leaves are steam-rolled and fired until they resemble green needles. This is a delightful tea, which combines a subtle sweetness with a faint astringency. Japanese Bancha can also be used to good effect although its flavour is slightly rougher. Chinese Gunpowder is so named because of its grey/green colour and its closely rolled leaves, which resemble pellets. When infused the leaves gently unfurl to produce a delicious tea that makes excellent Kombucha.
Sugar is required in Kombucha to provide food for the yeast resident in the culture. Research and experimentation has shown that the best type of sugar to use is ordinary granulated white sugar. During fermentation the sucrose is broken down to its constituent parts, the simple sugars - glucose and fructose. Glucose is responsible for the formation of most of the organic acids with the exception of acetic acid, which derives from fructose. Glucose, which constitutes about 70% of sucrose, ferments far quicker than fructose and it is the latter which provides the residual sweetness in Kombucha.
If you prefer less sweetness in your Kombucha you can either a) extend the fermentation period by a few days, thus further acidifying the brew, or b) replace some of the sucrose with glucose (dextrose monohydrate), often found in home brewing shops described as brewing sugar. A 50/50 mix is a good start and will produce a beverage high in organic acids with minimal sweetness in a short time, 6 to 8 days. You will probably find the perfect mix by trial and error.
Fermentation vessel of at least 5 litres capacity: Ideally this should be glass (although stainless steel is acceptable) and wide-necked allowing access to the culture and enabling oxygen to enter freely. Aurora supplies wide-necked glass demijohns for Kombucha in sizes from 5 litres to 25 litres. Alternatively a glass or Pyrex bowl can be used.
Kitchen Roll (one sheet) and an elastic band to cover the fermenting vessel. NB. We do not recommend the use of muslin as this is liable to release fibres.
Large stainless steel pans or large tea pot
Funnel for Bottling: A funnel with mesh filter (supplied with kit from Aurora) or a spiral shaped funnel with a re-usable cotton filter cloth is available for this purpose but any funnel of food grade material can be used.
Spoon: Long handled stainless steel is preferable.
Thermometer: Kombucha is very temperature sensitive so a suitable thermometer is essential. Self adhesive thermometer strips that attach to the fermenting vessel are an excellent choice as they give a constant reading.
Bottles: Bottles should be re-sealable PET or glass. As Kombucha is a live product, pressure can build up inside the bottles due to possible further fermentation. Please ensure that any bottles to be used are designed to withstand internal pressure. PET bottles with screw top are most suitable. Shop bought water bottles are quite suitable.
Storage: For increased effervescence keep in airtight bottles in a dark place at room temperature for a few days and then transfer to the fridge. Further fermentation will take place thus creating a 'fizzy' drink. If you wish your kombucha to remain the same, keep cold at all times.
Heater: The best way to ensure a complete fermentation of your kombucha is to keep it at a constant temperature as close to 25°C as possible. A thermostatically controlled heated tray is ideal for this purpose.
pH Test Strips: are useful for determining the time when your kombucha is ready for bottling. They give more control over the process, increasing the chances of success.
The following recipe is for a brew of 3 litres. The quantities should be adjusted proportionally for other volumes.
N.B. When purchasing your live culture it is recommended that the requisite amount of Kombucha nutrient is included.
As with beer and wine making, there is no right and wrong way to brew Kombucha. Many books on the subject contain totally contradictory advice, usually with both being 'correct'. The methods described below are the ones that work for us. They are not intended as definitive procedures and may be adapted to suit your own preferences or conditions.
IMPORTANT! Please ensure that all vessels, equipment, work surfaces and, most importantly, your hands are thoroughly clean. Remove any metal jewellery from your hands before handling the Kombucha culture.
Pre-heat the teapot and add the loose tea (teabags can be used but are not recommended as they do not normally contain the best quality tea). Pour boiling water onto the tea leaves to about three-quarters full. Allow the tea to infuse for 10 minutes. Add the sugar to the teapot and stir with a stainless steel or polypropylene spoon until it is completely dissolved. Leave to stand for a further 5 minutes. Meanwhile calibrate your fermenting vessel by pouring in a measured 3 litres of water and marking the level. Pour the water away. Tip: If you are using one of the self-adhesive thermometer strips, attach this to the side of your fermenter so that the top edge is in line with the water level.
Add one litre of boiled and cooled, or filtered, water to the fermenting vessel, pour in the sweet tea through a stainless steel strainer or sieve and top up to 3 litres with more cooled water. Check the temperature of the tea. Do not continue until the temperature is 30°C or below. Too much heat will kill the culture! If the temperature is too high, cover the vessel with your sheet of kitchen roll and allow it to cool naturally.
For this method you will need two large (minimum 4 litres) stainless steel or glass/Pyrex saucepans, stainless steel spoon.
This is our preferred method.
Boil 3 litres of water for approx 3 minutes to drive off any chlorine present. Reduce heat and add the sugar, raise heat to full, stir until dissolved and boil for 2 minutes. Take off heat, stir very briefly with stainless steel spoon. Add tea, cover with lid and infuse for 15 minutes. Strain the tea through a stainless steel sieve into the other saucepan and discard the tea leaves. Cover tightly with kitchen foil with the lid on top. Leave until cooled to between 25°C and 28°C. Pour the cooled tea into your fermenter containing the culture and nutrient.
Making sure that your hands are clean put the culture into the cooled tea. Cover with kitchen roll and secure with an elastic band. Place the vessel away from strong smells and contaminants such as paint and tobacco smoke, which can kill the culture. The temperature of the liquid should be maintained as close to 25°C as possible (a thermostatically controlled heater tray is ideal for this purpose). Do not place in direct sunlight, as this is harmful to the Kombucha culture. The wide-necked demijohns from Aurora are supplied in plastic baskets with handles, which adequately exclude light.
Usually the culture will float on top of the tea. Occasionally, however, it may sink to the bottom. This is of no consequence as in both cases another culture will form on the surface. Your Kombucha beverage should be ready for bottling within 8 to 10 days providing it has been kept at the correct temperature. Please check the temperature regularly. It should always be between 20°C and 30°C. Never allow the temperature to exceed 30°C.
The finished Kombucha beverage should be within the pH range 2.7 to 3.2. If it is allowed to continue downward below 2.7 it will taste very sour, although should this occur your Kombucha is not wasted. You could mix it in the glass with your favourite fruit juice to mask the acidity or, alternatively, you could allow it to fall further until it becomes Kombucha Vinegar, which retains all of the properties of the beverage, making it a healthy alternative to other types of vinegar. If the pH is above 3.2 not enough of the desired organic acids will have been produced. It is very good practice to monitor the pH of your Kombucha whilst it is in the fermenter. Inexpensive and easy to use testing strips in the range 2.8 to 4.6 are available from Aurora. When you are an experienced Kombucha brewer you will know the pH that best suits your palate. You can then bottle at this level every time.
When you have determined that the Kombucha is ready for bottling, give your hands a thorough wash and take out the culture. You may be surprised at its weight, which increases dramatically during the brewing process. Occasionally you will have two cultures to remove if the 'mother fungus' remained on the bottom. Place the culture(s) on a clean plate while you conduct the bottling. Although completely harmless, there will often be substances floating in the beverage at this stage. These are usually fragmented pieces of culture, which may grow if carried over into bottles. For a clear beverage filtering the Kombucha prior to bottling is a good idea. Paper coffee or wine filter papers can work, although somewhat slowly. A spiral filter funnel with a re-usable cloth, available from Aurora, is much faster. You simply pour the liquid straight into the bottles through the funnel.
It is important always to bear in mind that your Kombucha culture is a living organism that must be treated with care and respect. The best way to ensure its vitality is to brew one batch straight after the other. When doing this, a good practice is to leave about 300 ml of beverage in the fermenter. It will not require cleaning out for five or six brews when you can use this yeasty sediment as a 'starter' for the next batch. Should you need to store it for a while keep it refrigerated and completely submerged in cider vinegar in a closed container, preferably glass. Storing cultures in a cold environment slows down any microbial activity; otherwise the surrounding liquid will eventually turn to vinegar. If the culture is kept for too long in vinegar it may be adversely affected.
All 'offspring' are potential 'mother' cultures, although it can take time for their full potency to be achieved. Usually, a ‘baby’ culture can be separated from its ‘parent’ by simply pulling them apart. Mother cultures have a life span of between 5 and 10 brews after which they should be discarded and replaced by a healthy baby. Experimentation has shown us that a baby culture needs to go through a complete fermentation of its own before it can be classed as an adult. This can be done in company with a mother culture. An easy way to do this is, after separating the two cultures from the first batch (if they require separating) place them in the next brew. When this second batch is ready a third culture will have been formed on top of the second. These two can then be used in tandem to produce a further batch.
Another method of strengthening a baby culture is to make a 'mini-brew' of around one litre and allow this to ferment for two to three weeks, by which time the liquid will be highly acidic and the culture at full potency.
Cultures can be safely stored on top of one another in Kombucha beverage in a sealed container. They should be positioned so that the oldest is on top. Whenever a new culture is added to the stock it should be placed at the bottom of the pile leaving the oldest on top to be used first.
Should your stock of cultures become too large for your needs, you can donate them to friends so that they can start to brew, or even use them as 'sponges' in the bath or shower. Giving yourself a rubdown with a Kombucha culture is a very refreshing experience and well worth the effort!
There is no hard and fast rule in this regard but a good starting point is to take one dose per day(one dose equals 100ml) early in the day (before or after the first meal). This stimulates the body and prepares you for the day ahead. If you are generally in good health this will probably be all you need. It has been deemed safe, however, to take up to one litre per day should you wish. It is recommended that you build up to this quantity gradually to avoid 'shocking the system'.
As Kombucha seems to help strengthen the immune system, sufferers from persistent problems, including asthma and arthritis, may wish to follow this regime: Take one dose on rising; one dose 15 minutes before lunch; one last dose 15 minutes before going to bed. This will effectively stimulate the body's natural defences and in many cases provide relief or even cure. Taking Kombucha in this manner can also be of benefit to those with high blood pressure.
Athletes can benefit greatly from Kombucha. One dose on rising followed by further doses just prior to exertion will help improve stamina and increase vitality.
Kombucha has been known to be very successful in aiding weight loss in conjunction with a balanced diet.
SHOULD ANY ADVERSE EFFECTS OCCUR FROM DRINKING KOMBUCHA STOP IMMEDIATELY AND CONSULT YOUR HEALTH PRACTITIONER.
A booklet of this size can only scratch the surface of this fascinating subject. There are other much larger publications containing detailed information on the microbiological aspects and history of Kombucha as well as documented case histories of the many successes attributed to this 'miracle fungus'. Rather like beer and wine making you never stop learning, either from your own or the experiences of others.
We hope that we have been able to enlighten you sufficiently so that you can start on the road to improved health and vitality through Kombucha.
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